Scott Silven’s ‘The Journey’ transports audiences to a magical room and mysterious Scottish isle
By Christina Campodonico
As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, many of us dream of escape. For some, a remote isle off the coast of Scotland might be the perfect place to clear one’s head and vacation away from COVID-carrying maddening crowds.
Mentalist and illusionist Scott Silven helps audiences make such a voyage without leaving their homes in his new show “The Journey,” presented by The Broad Stage. In the intimate virtual show (capped at just 30 audience members), Silven regales audiences with the story of a curious young boy who explores wooded forests and an isolated isle — he serves as a kind of avatar for Silven — while Silven performs masterful tricks of illusion from thousands of miles away. Magically mind-read numbers and images appear throughout the show streamed live from a minimalist and spare Georgian-style room in Silven’s family home in Scotland.
But this isn’t just some souped-up Zoom call. Audience members are actually broadcast into the show and expected to participate in the magic’s execution by bringing an object of meaning to the show, a special memory and paper and pen.
“I knew that I wanted to create something that wasn’t going to be a Zoom call,” says Silven, “as much as I love those types of work. …. I wanted to do something that could transcend that experience where the technology itself would be invisible. … You don’t have to mute or unmute your mic; you don’t have to make your screen bigger.”
“But more so than that the prosaic challenge was, how do you create something that feels truly interactive and immersive when you’re on the other side of the world?” he muses.
Of course, with the challenges of COVID and limitations of technology that sort of seamless, connective experience did not yet exist. So Silven’s creative team, which includes Olivier Award winner Gareth Fry of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” actually created their own software and unique stage design for the show.
“What we have now,” Silven continues, “is this multi-layered, immersive and interactive experience where there is surround sound, high-quality visuals and you being projected physically into the space with me. You don’t exist in a little box on your screen. So you will appear in the walls behind me. You will appear floating beside me. So it’s hugely exciting to have created something like that — that from what we’ve seen just doesn’t exist in the online realm.”
The experience also begins well before showtime, with an interactive “secret portal” which viewers are granted access to ahead of time.
“So ‘The Journey’… begins as soon as you buy your ticket,” says Silven. “There’s two short films that lead you into the Scottish landscape of my youth and asks you some interesting things to bring to ‘The Journey’ with you. And thirdly, there is a binaural sound experience, where you wear some headphones and you ‘walk’ down this path very close to a beach near my childhood home, (and we filmed it on this tiny Scottish island).
“It’s really strange, but exciting that you wear your earphones and if you close your eyes, you will truly feel as if you were standing on that Scottish beach with me,” Silven continues, “with me speaking right beside you. So it’s really cool that we have these three pieces of content that you engage with before you come to ‘The Journey’ at your leisure. As soon as you come to the show, you have already had three touch points of engagement. … So everyone usually comes quite excited and engaged to see what’s going to happen in the experience.”
Like most magicians, Silven shies away from revealing the secrets behind his tricks. But he hopes the experience transports audience members no matter where they might be.
“We speak in magic about this willing suspension of disbelief. But what I try and do with my theater of the mind, mentalism, is that because you were so invested in the experience yourself, it’s your emotions, it’s your memories, it’s your imaginations that you’re bringing to that, that you will be completely immersed in it. And it’s almost an unwilling suspension of disbelief,” he says, “which is very exciting for me. That, I think, that’s the power of mentalism in general is that there is nothing to hide behind. It’s not people being put in funny-looking boxes. It’s not someone doing card tricks. It’s you and I sitting in a room together and having this incredibly powerful connection.”
Even if the room is thousands of miles apart.
Scott Silven’s “The Journey” continues through Nov. 15. Tickets start at $50. Visit thebroadstage.org/performances/2020-21/special-event/thejourney to learn more.